Case Closed?

The attorney general says the RTA-election investigation is over, but activists still have concerns

Democratic Party attorney Bill Risner, left, pleaded with Attorney General Terry Goddard to recount the RTA ballots. Now that the ballots have been recounted, Risner and others think some forensic analysis is in order, too.

When state Attorney General Terry Goddard arrived at a press conference last week to announce the results of his office's criminal investigation into the 2006 Regional Transportation Authority election, one of the first people he greeted was Jeff Rogers, chairman of the Pima County Democratic Party.

The friendly banter between the two attorneys may have seemed insignificant, but the brief moment may have unintentionally brought the past three years of litigation and wrangling, led by the Democratic Party, full-circle.

Or did it?

With a row of TV news cameras in the front, and a group of election integrity activists in the back, Goddard said: "There was no flip."

The investigation is over, he said. No fraud occurred during the 2006 RTA election.

As the press conference progressed, however, it grew obvious that the election-integrity activists in attendance didn't agree. They asked Goddard if a forensic analysis of the ballots was done or would be considered, and if he'd consider comparing precinct counts to the poll tapes (election results printed at each precinct the end of election night).

Goddard and his agents in attendance said no. The point of the investigation and the ballot examination was to determine if the ballots' initial count was accurate.

Rogers says he's satisfied with the investigation results, but thinks the AG needs to go the extra mile to say the investigation is complete.

"Why not?" Rogers asks. "Take a forensic look at the ballots; a random sample is all it would take."

In an e-mail to the Tucson Weekly, Pima County Democratic Party attorney Bill Risner wrote that election-integrity activists asked the AG's office to allow them to look at the ballots under a microscope to rule out the possibility that the ballots were fakes.

"The AG's refusal to permit us to look at sample ballots under a microscope is noteworthy. We wanted to resolve RTA questions. Pima County owns a ballot-printing machine that uses a different process than Runbeck Co. that printed the original ballots. Pima County had possession of the ballots for a couple of years and a motive to cover up any crime. We asked the AG to do a forensic analysis or permit us to look at the ballots. The AG refused," Risner wrote.

After almost three years of litigation, including a public-records lawsuit win, Risner is ready to head back to court to get the answers he needs—and some of those answers may come from the poll tapes. Poll tapes from past elections have been considered public records, yet Risner's original request for the RTA poll tapes was denied.

Goddard confirmed the ballot boxes would be returning to Pima County soon after the press conference. Meanwhile, Pima County Treasurer Beth Ford told the Tucson Weekly in an e-mail that Risner will still need a court order to retrieve the poll tapes from the ballot boxes.

Risner explained in his e-mail why he wants the tapes: "The poll tapes ... give precinct by precinct details. The poll tapes are particularly useful to understand why the original data was deleted. We have a very bad system that requires us to understand it as best as we can. If everyone agrees, as they do, that it is easy to cheat with our system, then we need to know as much as we can about the system so the cheaters won't try."

Goddard confirmed during his press conference that the current elections system used by Pima County, and most of the rest of the state, is susceptible to cheating. He added that some questions—resulting from evidence gathered by Risner and election-integrity activists—remain unanswered.

Goddard says his office can't explain the Elections Division's purchase of a crop scanner, a tool proven effective in changing election results. Nor can he explain the affidavit from a former Pima County employee accusing another employee of admitting he fixed the RTA election.

Nonetheless, the case is closed, although while answering questions from election-integrity activists John Brakey and Jim March, Goddard said he's open to listening to their concerns.

While activists continue to voice those concerns, Rogers says it's worth looking at the good that has come from the tenacity of the activists. Rogers says major changes in election protocols and security have come as a result of their work and the public-records lawsuit suit won by the Democratic Party last year. The lawsuit also forced the county to provide all political parties with electronic election database files going back to 1998.

Besides the changes to elections procedures, Rogers says interaction with other political parties and elections staff has improved over the last year.

"While we may not always agree on everything, this has forced us to work together. There is a lot more cooperation than ever before," he says.

He agrees that the matter has occasionally pitted Democrat against Democrat, particularly during last year's Pima County Board of Supervisors election, when supervisors Sharon Bronson and Ramon Valadez were on the hot seat to explain why they didn't support their own party's public-records request.

There are no hard feelings, according to Rogers.

"And in a way, I think this will eventually become a model for the nation," he says, referring to elections transparency, access to public records and party monitoring of electronic elections.

But all of it has come with a big price tag.

According to legal invoices obtained by the Tucson Weekly through a Freedom of Information Act request, the cost to taxpayers so far for private attorneys representing Pima County Treasurer Beth Ford (DeConcini McDonald Yetwin and Lacy law firm) and the Pima County Board of Supervisors (Gabroy Rollman and Bossé) in litigation regarding the fate of the RTA ballots is now more than $100,000. Pima County taxpayers have also paid out more than $250,000 in attorney's fees to Risner from the public-records lawsuit, and more than $13,000 in other legal costs.

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